Case study

Employee engagement and wellbeing: Rail Accident Investigation Branch

How the Rail Accident Investigation Branch improved employee engagement from 2012 to 2014.

Key ideas from this case study:

  • the Civil Service People Survey is an important resource in helping to identify employee concerns
  • by empowering staff and giving them a voice, substantial gains in employee engagement are possible
  • be brave! Don’t be afraid to try a new approach.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) is an independent body whose role it is to investigate accidents to improve railway safety. The RAIB, which became operational in 2005, operates across 2 sites (Derby and Farnborough). The RAIB has recently recorded an impressive improvement in employee engagement scores, increasing from 61% in 2012, to 75% in 2014. The interim Chief Inspector was interviewed to identify what may have brought about this improvement.

Understanding Engagement

As a senior management team at the RAIB, we make extensive use of the Civil Service People Survey results. We use the results to identify particular areas in which the organisation is not performing as we would expect. By identifying those areas needing improvement, we are able to address specific issues and employee concerns. This allows us to target our efforts and resources towards the areas that need them most.

Empowering Employees

One particular survey theme on which we felt the RAIB exhibited relatively low levels of agreement was the ‘Leadership and Managing Change’ theme. In particular, the RAIB performed relatively badly when it came to the question ‘I think it is safe to challenge the way things are done.’ Recognising that the staff expressed reluctance in challenging authority, it was agreed that we, as a senior management team, were probably not best placed to address this issue directly. After some discussion, we decided to seek outside assistance in gathering the views and opinions of staff on the best way to address this issue. By bringing in someone from outside the RAIB, we hoped staff would be more forthcoming in expressing their concerns with the current leadership and more constructive in coming up with ways to overcome them.

The exercise resulted in a working group being set-up amongst employees to identify a number of values and personal behaviours that staff felt were needed to create a more respectful and empowering work environment. It was important for us to demonstrate our commitment to these values and behaviours, showing staff that we were serious about finding a solution. Had we not done, not only would the process have been futile, but these values and behaviours would not have been adopted widely across the organisation.

While this exercise has been successful in empowering staff and giving them a greater voice, it has also had the added benefit of demonstrating the lengths to which senior management were willing to go to address their concerns. This process may explain, in part, the recent improvement in employee engagement scores at the RAIB.

Improving Communication and Coherency

When it comes to Employee Engagement, we also face a number of challenges that come with being an organisation that operates across multiple sites. We are particularly conscious of the challenges posed to administrative teams with members in both the Derby and Farnborough offices. Maintaining clear communication and team spirit within these teams can be difficult for line managers.

Given these challenges, it was agreed that the administrative branch of the RAIB was to be reorganised so that line managers were better connected with their team members. The reorganisation was intended to make managers more engaged with, and responsive to, their staff. Again, the People Survey results were central to this reorganisation. It was clear from previous years’ results that there were issues with communication across multi-site teams. This reorganisation may partly explain the relatively high scores across the administrative division on the “My Team” and “My Manager” theme scores.

Benefits of increasing Engagement

Employee Engagement at the RAIB has traditionally been high, in part due to the nature of the work. Staff turnover has remained relatively low over time and the organisation has found it easy to recruit and retain highly qualified and motivated staff.

Since the actions taken above to boost Employee Engagement were only performed recently, it is too early to tell exactly how they might come to benefit the work of the wider organisation. At this stage, however, it is evident that these actions are beginning to take effect. Staff have adopted the values and behaviours identified as integral to effective working at the RAIB. In fact, these values and behaviours have entered the everyday working vocabulary of staff at all levels. It also appears that working relationships within and among teams has improved markedly following the recent re-structuring. It is hoped that this will lead to even more cross-team working than already exists and possibly even an improvement in Employee Wellbeing.

Published 18 February 2016